The Times in London has, I believe, a Top-secret think-tank. Its one aim is to dream up ways of humiliating its pale and overweight German correspondent. So it came as no surprise when a young editor, barely suppressing his giggles, suggested I join the first all-naked flight to be organised in Germany. Britons find nudity hilarious. Germans take it very seriously. I don’t know which is worse but I do know it is one of those civilisational frontiers that divide Germany from much of the rest of the world.
The flights begin in July, from Erfurt to Heringsdorf in Usedom. The passengers will be able to get in the mood for the Naturist beaches of the Baltic Sea. If they prove successful, who knows where they will lead? Nudist taxis? Trains for naked passengers?
Enrico Hess, the originator of the idea, explained that naked customers were big business. Fair enough. But all I could think of was: what if a colleague ends up sitting in the next seat? Hot tea will be banned to protect ones body parts, but it does seem to be a very cold way of travelling. I can only think of three advantages to naked travel. Your clothes don’t get creased. You won’t get stuck with one of those irritating fellow passengers who take out their wallets and start to show you pictures of their families, their house, their boat. And the chances of a terrorist being on-board are reduced. Certainly no shoe-bomber.
But, of course, I am missing the point. Germans see nudism – sorry naturalism – differently. It has, at least since the end of the 19th century, been part of a movement to get back to nature. To free oneself – hence the name, Freikörperkultur – from religious strictures that teach you to be ashamed of your body. To free oneself from industrial society – without clothes no-one is a factory slave, everyone is equal. Significantly the first FKK Verein was established (in 1898) in smoky Essen. It was a primitive kind of Socialism which was why the bureaucratic communists of East Germany, Ulbricht and co, hated it so much. They understood that when their citizens stripped off, they were shedding the system. In the 1950s the communists tried to ban the nudists. Then the naked rebels came up with the idea of organising “Cameroon Festivals”, apparently celebrating fraternal friendship between the GDR and the African country but, in fact, just an excuse for hundreds to dance naked on the beach. Stasi files quote a police chief from the resort of Prerow as reporting to the leadership in 1954: “The Cameroon Festivals are an insult to the morals and traditions of the Negro people.” When he dispatched policemen to stop the naked dancers, they were thrown into the sea.
That sounds a bit like a Californian beach party. But it isn’t: in Germany, nudity is ideological. The East German regime came to accept naturalism and many ordinary people embraced it as the one popular movement that was not organised or steered by the state. Soon after unification, a photo exhibition of East German nudists was staged in Berlin. The most revealing body parts of these people, posing in front of their Trabants or on Brandenburg potato fields, was their eyes. The eyes of rebels.
In West Germany stripping off was never quite as political. But it was hemmed in by regulations. And that too was typisch deutsch. After 1968, naked flesh became more socially acceptable: no magazine cover was complete without bare breasts. So the FKK had to set up rules for the unclothed to protect its monopoly position. For years there has been a sectarian battle about whether people wearing a t-shirt or a bikini bottom can enter a FKK beach.
For outsiders like myself there is something a bit crazy about this. I too have been expelled from a fitness centre because I wanted to wear swimming trunks in the sauna and the whirlpool. This, I was told, was “unhygienic”. What, I wondered, was unhygienic about swimming trunks? And what was so hygienic about nudity? I left the sauna feeling like Adam thrown out of paradise for having unclean thoughts. Nudity in Germany, it seems, cannot function without senseless regulation, bureaucratic clothing.
Perhaps I shall see you soon on Nudist Airlines. You will recognise me: I will be the one with a copy of the Times covering his lower parts.